insight

Sanna Rådelius

What Does it Mean to be a Feminine Leader?

Feminine Leadership can lay the foundation for a better organisational culture, but it's not achieved by simply having more women in positions of power.

Leadership
Feminism. It’s a concept that has been with me my whole life. 

My paternal grandma identified as a feminist and spent her life fighting pornography and being active in several women’s clubs. My mum was also a feminist and, along with my dad, they raised us in a fairly equal household in a country, Sweden, which is famous for gender equality. Through my mum's work at the Konsumentverket (Swedish Consumer Agency) I knew from a very early age about how sex is used to sell things and how gender norms are established through the media. 

I saw this system. I questioned this system. I didn’t want to fall victim to this system. But still, I grew up in it. I was formed by it. The longing to climb the social hierarchical steps made me conform to it.
Why did I offer my son everything, but felt the need to deny my daughter things that, by society, are connected to being a girl?
Growing up, society and its norms never really offered me the opportunity to love myself. I always felt some sort of shame. First of all for my sex. Cover up, don’t show. Then for being sexual. Later on, for not being sexual enough. Menstruating. Shaving. Not shaving. Being feminine. Not being feminine enough. Body size. Wearing the wrong clothes. Not taking up enough space. Taking up too much space. 

So many contradictions. So much shame.

It became more obvious to me when I had kids of my own.
 
With my son it was very simple, I wanted him to be allowed to express the full spectrum of emotions. I wanted him to be allowed to be who he is, not restrained by any restrictive norms. Between me and my husband we were determined that we were not going to shut his emotions down. We also offered him all kinds of toys, not just the gender-typical ones. He played with cars and My Little Ponies. He wore pink shirts as well as blue shorts. We encouraged it all. But then I had a daughter. 
What I realised was that my feminist beliefs had made me believe that there is only one way of playing the games of adult life, the masculine way.
No, no, no. A dress?? Pink? White stockings? “It’s just not practical," I found myself saying. “She won't be able to play in it." At some point, I had to question the reasons behind the refusal of this traditionally feminine attire and I realised that I had a war going on inside of me. Why did I offer my son everything, but felt the need to deny my daughter things that, by society, are connected to being a girl?

At the same time I was struggling with bad self-esteem. I never felt good enough. As a short woman running her own businesses, I had to play a game I didn’t feel comfortable in. I felt that I had something inside of me that I wasn’t able to let out, and I couldn’t understand why. I kept on facing my fears, kept facilitating workshops, even though they were connected to so much anxiety. “Throw yourself out there Sanna” was my motto. Still, my self-esteem didn’t get any better. I stopped believing in myself. I couldn’t sell mine and my colleagues' consultancy services anymore. I felt useless.

Then life had new plans for me. I was challenged out of my comfort zone, amongst people that also saw the system the way I did but refused to play by the common rules. Through this context, I found a new movement, a feminine one. I jumped on that train and found answers that ended my internal struggle.
I was depriving myself of so much. My feminist lifestyle had made me disparage the feminine principle in favour of the masculine.
What I realised was that my feminist beliefs had made me believe that there is only one way of playing the games of adult life, the masculine way. I had been living under the impression that I had to be more masculine to be taken seriously. For a feminine woman with lots of happiness in her system, it took a lot of energy to play that game. I had to oppress so much of myself that I forgot about who I really was. I had to communicate in ways that didn’t feel authentic to me. And how could I then act authentically? I never allowed myself to wear feminine clothes. When I cried or showed too much emotion in public I felt ashamed. 

I was depriving myself of so much. My feminist lifestyle had made me disparage the feminine principle in favour of the masculine. It made me believe I need to be more like a man to succeed in business, to get power. It made me believe that there is only one way to play the game - the masculine way. By accepting this, I had also accepted patriarchy and reinforced it my entire life.

This has stopped now. Because I learnt that there is also a feminine way to play the game (and probably many more). The feminine way is a way that I am convinced will benefit both women and men, the planet as well as future generations. It’s not through replacing patriarchy with matriarchy. It’s not through seeing all gender as a social construct (parts of it are, yes, but not all). It’s not through doing either-or. And it’s definitely not through saying that one is better than the other. We need both polarities. We need to value them both. We all have both of them in us. Women and men and everyone in between. So what was it that ended that inner war in me? 
I menstruate, which means that I have a four-week cycle and each week I am affected in different ways. 
It started with accepting my biological difference. My body is different from a male one, both externally and internally it is wired in a completely different way from a man's, and it has so much potential if I get to know and understand it better. I menstruate, which means that I have a four-week cycle and each week I am affected in different ways. Some weeks are challenging, but others are powerful and productive — like when I'm ovulating. I have a body that can carry and give birth to a child and because of this it needs a different kind of care. As the sex-industry, as well as the medical industry, is so focused on the male body, it’s very important to recognise these biological differences. To learn more about how my body works has made it possible for me to experience more of the potential I have within it, and there is still much more to be revealed.

Seeing my body in this light and building a new relationship with my feminine parts was the key to loving myself. It all starts with my body. This vessel of mine. Owning it. Loving it. Enjoying it.

When I finally recognised this, I started to grow wings.
I accepted myself in all that I am. I stopped analysing and criticising myself and my performance from a masculine point of view. 
All of a sudden I was no longer choosing clothes and wearing makeup to please others, or to conform to societal norms. If I wore makeup, I did it for me. I dressed in whatever pleased me that day. Cosy, sexy, comfy. Jeans, dresses, yoga tights.

All of a sudden I didn’t get embarrassed when my daughter was exploring the diamond between her thighs. Instead, I would celebrate it. Yes, you go girl! No shame! Explore your pleasure potential! Explore what it means to be a girl and a woman. 

All of a sudden I dared to be my authentic, full self in all sorts of situations. The full package, with emotions, a menstrual cycle, intellect and intuition. I accepted myself in all that I am. I stopped analysing and criticising myself and my performance from a masculine point of view. Compassion, empathy, creation and listening, those are some of my strengths, and I started valuing them just as much as my analytical and organisational skills. Through this, I found my true power.
Feminine Leadership can give permission for people, women, and men, to be more themselves. 
When I started loving all that it means to be a woman like me, that’s when I could break free from the norms and expectations that have been dictating my life. I am not completely there yet, but I’ve come far enough to fly. I’ve come far enough to see how feminine leadership can influence an organisation. How it can give permission for people, women, and men, to be more themselves. How it can lay a completely different foundation for organisational culture, and how this affects the wellbeing of both individuals and organisations.

I’m still on a journey. I always will be. This is just my journey so far. I’ve felt intimidated to take leadership or to share my thoughts for too long. The fear of being ridiculed is always there, but we need women to own their power. We need women to show up in all their femininity to take care of this world. We need the feminine principle now, more than ever! 

I want women to take leadership. I want men to see and acknowledge the need for this leadership and power. The need for compassion, vulnerability, and love. And I want us all to love the two polarities. To let the healthy masculine and healthy feminine come together in a partnership. We all have the two principles (or essence, if you prefer) within us. We need them both to keep a balance in this world. We need these polarities to make love, not war.
I want women to take leadership. I want men to see and acknowledge the need for this leadership and power. The need for compassion, vulnerability, and love. 
I love this quote from Feminine Embodiment Coach, Anna Rova: “The future is not female. The future belongs to self-aware, conscious powerful men and women who create abundance of resources and possibilities” (read more)

So dear ones. I feel a calling to be a permission giver, by being my full self and throwing myself out there. This means I will say and do a lot of stupid things, but I will hold myself in this and give myself permission to be my full self. I will stroke myself on the cheek and say that it is okay and that I am perfect just the way I am. I will tell myself that it’s okay to screw up, and I will do the same thing to any other being who dares to show up authentically. I will love you, just the way you are. My daughter. My son. A complete stranger. 

You are perfect. You are loved. You are needed in this world.

I want you to feel that. 

I believe that this will change the world.


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Words by Sanna Rådelius
Sanna Rådelius is a social entrepreneur and incurable optimist. She has spent the last few years developing the Initiative, a political party in Sweden which aims to activate a metamodern politics, and is an expert in experience design, culture design, community building, Teal management and feminine leadership.